Armando Iannucci, series creator of HBO's "Veep," writes deftly about a woman's rise in American politics. Native to Scotland, he had a bit to learn in converting the brand of humor he'd established while working on "The Thick of It," a look at the mechanics of modern British government. And yet, as we enter the fourth season of his show, starring masterfully comedic Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Iannucci delivers one of the most eerily accurate (and funny) versions of Washington to date. HuffPost Entertainment spoke with Iannucci about crafting the bumbling bureaucracy showcased on "Veep" and what to expect in Season 4.
How long did you know you wanted to make Selina Meyer president this past season? You could have played around a bit longer with her aiming for the office.
I think as soon as we started writing Season 3 we knew we were going to end with Selina [played by Louis-Dreyfus] in office. We decided it was finally time to just do it. We thought we could do a lot more with her in the position and decided not to lag through possibilities or leave room for predictions about what might happen. That's where the show was leading, and there's a lot to work with now that we've done it.
You're a British man writing about a woman in American politics. What knowledge gaps did you confront with that entry point? What have you learned since starting the show?
We learned we needed to make Selina stronger. This is a woman who has run for and won a position in the senate. That has to come from somewhere. She has to have some foundation of wit and cunning based on that, if nothing else. So, we've added a bit to the character in that regard. She couldn't just be a bumbling idiot.
She definitely developed more of a cynicism toward the end of Season 1 and beginning of 2. She is less incompetent than she was earlier on.
Right. That's why you hear all these senators and people in office saying they had to talk to their families before they made the decision to run. It's a serious decision. It's a lot. They go for everything. Everything you've ever said, every video you've ever been in comes up. It takes a lot out of you and you have to have a certain disposition to handle it. There's also a lot for her to skewer with that mindset of being cynical about incompetence rather than just being incompetent.
In that regard, obviously a huge part of the show is the insults. What's your recipe for crafting them? I know you've said they need to be "of the moment." How do you make sure that's the case with each jab?
Well, since we know what's going to happen, we work a lot with dealing in the situation. We bring in the cast for readings and that's where a lot of the changes to the script get made. I said to them, you know, "You've been living with these characters for several years. What is your worst fear as the character? What is the worst thing that could happen to them?" Much of that has made it into the script. Gary not having use of his arm, for example. That was his worst nightmare.
Is that usually part of your writing process or is it just something you thought was a good fit for this cast?
This is the first time I've done that, talked to the cast in advance of the show. It was an interesting process for everyone, because it made everyone really think hard about the character. I also worked for that season to make sure the characters were out of their comfort zone. You know, Selina, had to come up with a view on birth control, whereas in the past it's been okay for her to not say anything. I wanted her to be put slightly on edge this season.
You know, often comedies are either praised for the acting or the writing. Here it's a clear mix of both. Not to take anything away from your writing, of course --
Oh no, that's great! We do so much work with the scripts. You know, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting, in order to arrive at something that's happening spontaneously in front of the cameras.
They all handle the material with such levity, though often the scripts are quite intense. I imagine that's not quite as easy as you all make it look.
It's that Gene Kelly thing. If it looks like you're working hard, then you're not working hard enough. Everyone in this cast are such talented character performers, with such a comedic sensibility as constant improvisors, that actually the more we get to know them as writers, the more we can write specifically for them. You know, the more more we're thinking, "Let's give Amy this, because we know Anna will have a great time doing that. Let's do this for Mike, because we know that Matt can really pull something out of the bag at this point." They're sort of testing us and we're sort of testing them simultaneously, which is great. It's the sort of thing you should be doing by the third season.
Now, you've built this one version of Washington that sort of sits with other, much more foreboding, dramatic versions in pop culture. How do you think of your D.C. in conversation with the universe we see in, say, "House of Cards?"
I always thought you've always got the dark conspiracy view of Washington or the very noble, heroic version -- you know, the president leads the air force through an alien invasion type of thing. And I felt I wanted that dull, day-to-day existence of what D.C. is actually like, and get the vulnerabilities of these people, and trying not to treat them as black and white, but as very varied, fallible people. So, there's a sort of humanity there and, hopefully, a believability. Out of that, that's where the comedy comes from.
It's this vision that is certainly not how we hope to see the government, but something far closer to what it actually is.
I think so. And I think that's what people who work with me say about the show. It's a comedy, but it's kind of accurate.
And I know you're supposed to focus on Season 3 here, but what can you tell me about 4?
Well, she's president, but she's behind in the polls, and there are only eight months to go before the actual election. It could be the shortest presidency in history. But we see her on the world's stage. There's a visit from the Israelis, there's a trip to Iran. And then there's some new major figures in her horizon as the election comes near.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
"Veep: The Complete Third Season" is available March 31 on Blu-ray and DVD; Season 4 premieres April 12 on HBO.